Essex/Suffolk: Investigation reveals multiple security breaches at military base

SECURITY at an Essex military base has been breached multiple times over the past five years, an investigation by The East Anglian Daily Times can reveal.

Lapses at Colchester Garrison include the smuggling of people into the heavily guarded base in car boots, while others have used false identification or even scaled fences to gain access to secure areas.

On one occasion, shortly before troops were deployed to the front line in Afghanistan, three tutors teaching a form of ethnic Afghani were apparently allowed to roam the base after being “incorrectly afforded unescorted access”.

The Ministry of Defence has insisted that security remains a “central priority” and said none of the incidents threatened national security.

But soldiers based in the region have described the breaches as “very, very poor” while MPs have called for lessons to be learnt.

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According to figures released under the Freedom of Information Act, security at the garrison, home of the British Army’s 16th Air Assault Brigade, has been breached 13 times in five years.

In 2010 a member of the public got onto the site after scaling the perimeter fence by using the roof of a garden shed.

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The man was detained and reported to Essex Police.

Three times, in 2007, 2008 and 2009, a visitor to the base was smuggled through security inside a car boot.

Also in 2009 three tutors teaching Pashtu, the official language of Afghanistan, were “incorrectly afforded unescorted access to the site and were not vetted.”

The tutors were said to be visiting the site to give soldiers basic language lessons ahead of their deployment to Afghanistan.

The garrison also reported how contractors in 2006 used false ID to get inside the base, with another driver in 2008 used someone else’s pass to gain admission to the base.

A report on the incidents stated that “policy and procedures” were reviewed to “assess business resilience.”

Colchester MP, Sir Bob Russell, said he hoped the garrison would learn from the breaches.

“People being smuggled inside car boots is a serious breach and I have every confidence that Colchester Garrison will be reviewing procedures because it’s through such incidents that short comings are exposed.”

He added: “What I would say is that security at the garrison, in my experience, has been very good. I would say that the breaches involving people being smuggled onto site in cars was of most concern.

“I imagine that the Pashtu tutors would have had all manner of checks before they even got to the site.

“I am not complacent, but I don’t think these breaches mean that garrison is not secure in any way.”

But members of the region’s armed forces said the lapses were worrying.

One serving soldier, who asked not to be named, said: “I think it’s really, really poor. Obviously we’re all highly trained soldiers on the garrison but these checks must be carried out properly.”

In Suffolk, RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall said they had no information on security breaches over the same period.

But a spokesman added: “There are occasions where members of the public inadvertently access unauthorised areas at RAF Lakenheath and RAF Mildenhall in error.

“These individuals are asked to leave and no further action is taken. Details are not routinely recorded.”

There were no reported breaches at RAF Honington.

A spokesman for the Ministry of Defence said: “Safeguarding our sites, people and assets remains a central priority. None of the reported incidents have presented a threat to national security and the fact that they were identified immediately is evidence that our layered security arrangements are sufficiently robust to prevent any serious breach. Processes and instructions are periodically reviewed and improved to ensure best practice.”

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